Starting in on Hunter Thompson
Someone asked me the best way to start in on Hunter Thompson, what book to read.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is his masterpiece. After, or during that, pick and choose pieces from The Great Shark Hunt. His piece on the Kentucky Derby is, I don’t know, much more important than Fear and Loathing: there was nothing like it in literature until he wrote it and so much of what we now consider good writing, even intellectual living, flows through that breach.
Hunter Thompson is the continuing path through a tube made by Franklin, Nietzsche (while German, yes, he completely destroyed eons of European thought, freeing up room for everything, anything new), through Hemingway, the Marshall and Eisenhower interstate plans, Vietnam and Nixon into how Americans think about our interactions with life. After him comes hip-hop, and then here we are. He’s like a comprehendible, cynical, but pragmatic Walt Whitman, clearing out all the crud that clogs the tubes.
Outside of American culture, reading his oeuvre be tough: “appreciating” (not the right word - “understanding”?) him requires knowing a lot of American in-jokes, culture/identity, and 70s anecdotes long forgot these 50 years later.
His book on the Hell’s Angels is a good start too: it’s his most professional book and very under appreciated. If you read it as a two faced book with Fear and Loathing you’ll get the core Hunter Thompson.
Joan Didion’s first collection of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, is an equally important, more grounded path into whatever world Hunter Thompson inhabits along with her. You could call it “gonzo,” but that’s just the style and mode of writing. More of what it is is: a way of dealing with the world outside your head, other people, culture, and “society,” then and now.
Didion is so much the same as Hunter Thompson, but she sadly gets less attention and credit than him. Her coverage of American politics and culture in the 60s, 70s, and 80s is so precise and insightful.
If you really wanted to be weird, you could start on Thompson by reading Slouching Towards Bethlehem first, and then Fear and Loathing. That would give you a much different first encounter experience with Hunter Thompson, and probably much more pleasurable and intellectually stimulating than my first encounter.
I’m still not working on much of anything. Others continue on the projects, though!
- DrunkAndRetired.com Podcast: “All your conferences belong to online, Peloton Zoom.”
- SoftwareDefinedTalk.com Podcast: “The Hot Take Episode” - This week we offer hot takes on a whole bunch of topics including: COBOL, Unikernels, AWS Bottlerocket, Zoom, Slack, Circle CI, Marketplaces and IBM.
- I do manage to get out of the house often - with a newborn, you always need something, and then there’s the rest of us who always need, like, more milk or hot dog buns. I’ve found lots of Garbage Chairs of Amsterdam of late, all over on Instagram, of course.
Children fill a vacuum
At this point, most of my contact with human beings is email and Twitter. I feel like everybody is divided into one of two groups. In group A, you have these people who are saying, “At least I have time to read in quarantine. By the way, I’m accepting recommendations for TV shows to binge-watch.” The second group, of which I’m a part, we’re homeschooling our kids. There is zero time.
From Emily St. John Mandel on Fact on Conversations with Tyler
Ugly teaches little
When one studies something characteristic of a people it is wise to look at its best side, at least if one wants to learn anything. Ugly things are ugly in much the same way the world over. Only the best can teach us, and the best of anything is individual. Each country excels in some things, and in the rest is just the same as other countries: mediocre.
From Design as Art, by Bruno Munari
Six had made friends with Second Lieutenant Hopkins, who was mechanically minded and happy to show her things. At first, Thaniel hadn’t been too pleased with the idea of letting her go off with strange men; not because he thought Mori would let anything bad happen, but because it seemed dangerous to teach her to trust everyone. Mori, though, had pointed out that it was just as dangerous to teach a little girl that one foot wrong would mean a lunatic and a dungeon. It made it sound inevitable, whereas if you were brought up safe in the knowledge that people were supposed to be good, you approached the bad ones with a healthy fury that might just see you out of the dungeon.
From The Lost Future of Pepperharrow
I started The Lost Future of Pepperharrow. Having enjoyed the previous book in this series, I want to like this one. But, I’m giving up on it about halfway through. It’s too languid and plot-elusive for my current needs. I’ll see. Giving up on books takes a lot of effort, but it’s one of the best tricks for reading a lot.
I have The Glass Hotel and The City We Became waiting which seem like good books to get to.
Relative to your interests
Follow my blog for links on a daily basis, I often add extra commentary there.
- The governance must be as complex as the governed - ‘In colloquial terms Ashby’s Law has come to be understood as a simple proposition: if a system is to be able to deal successfully with the diversity of challenges that its environment produces, then it needs to have a repertoire of responses which is (at least) as nuanced as the problems thrown up by the environment. So a viable system is one that can handle the variability of its environment. Or, as Ashby put it, only variety can absorb variety.’
- Diaries - ‘Paperno quotes the painter Eugène Delacroix, who grandly defined his journal as “the history of what I feel.”’
- Booking.com experiments, A/B testing, etc. - ‘ “If I have any advice for CEOs, it’s this: Large-scale testing is not a technical thing; it’s a cultural thing that you need to fully embrace. You need to ask yourself two big questions: How willing are you to be confronted every day by how wrong you are? And how much autonomy are you willing to give to the people who work for you? And if the answer is that you don’t like to be proven wrong and don’t want employees to decide the future of your products, it’s not going to work. You will never reap the full benefits of experimentation.”’
- Dutch take on the long term, social impact of the virus - ‘According to Makenbach, there are two main issues in dealing with the coronavirus. The first is to what extent this disease, which mainly affects the elderly, should be allowed to damage younger generations who are losing their jobs and falling behind in education, he said. And the second is to what extent the virus and measures against it should be allowed to further increase inequality. Socio-economically vulnerable people are more likely to become seriously ill, and also most disproportionately affected by drastic anti-coronavirus measures, Makenbach said. ‘
- Not much room for competition in banking - ‘“At the end of the day, almost any product or feature can be copied,” Simple’s Hijirida said. “Our secret sauce for competing in this market is creating a culture focused on fast experimentation and then quickly doubling down on what works. We will win because we can pivot quickly to respond to customer data and feedback.” That being said, a 2019 survey by Cornerstone Research suggests that Simple, which was founded in 2009, has less than one-third the number of deposit accounts as competitors Ally and Chime have.’
- People listen to their leaders - ‘Democrats seem to be taking the crisis more seriously than Republicans. In a poll by the Pew Research Centre, 59% of Democrats said covid-19 is a major threat to the health of Americans; only 33% of Republicans said that. The Unacast data suggest people are acting on their opinions, risking infection from, and spreading, a virus that has killed more Americans than the 9/11 attacks’
- Blame China - ‘America’s allies, along with many Trump administration officials and members of Congress, worry about China posing an unprecedented challenge to the post-1945 global order and the norms that underpin it. All evidence suggests that Mr Trump’s concerns are narrower and more domestic. His “China” is a proxy for globalisation, and for the failure of elites to shield American workers from competition. As for the actual autocracy called China, Mr Trump takes its ruthless self-interest for granted, and even praises it. Western leaders disagree about how to handle China partly because the country has become a larger, more daunting and more assertive competitor. It is also because of a crisis of Western unity.’
- I’m pretty sure my path to happiness is lowering my expectations - ‘De Botton also talks about the need to appreciate ordinary life, resisting the pressure to be a success in a society that seems to favour competition.’
- More spending on food, less on stuff outside your house - as you’d expect, but check out those stylish charts!
- Small books for walking around